Author Topic: Can faith increase? What would it look like?  (Read 1923 times)

Brian Stoffregen

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Can faith increase? What would it look like?
« on: February 28, 2021, 06:13:54 PM »
In listening to a sermon online this morning, the pastor (not a member of this group,) talked about increasing our faith. I wondered if that is possible. That is, didn't God give us enough when we first believed?


I've argued in other discussions that we can do nothing about our relationship with God. God has already done everything necessary through the death and resurrection of Jesus and sending the Holy Spirit who brings us to faith.


At the same time, I recognize that the disciples' ask Jesus in Luke 17:5: "Increase our faith." Does their request indicate that one can have more or less faith? What was the clue that they had an inadequate faith? Earlier Jesus (9:1-6) had sent them out with power over demons and diseases. They preached and healed. They went about without any supplies of their own. They had the faith to trust God for their necessities. They had the faith to heal the sick and cast out demons. They had the faith to proclaim the coming Kingdom of God. Why do they now ask for more faith? Did they need more faith to stand up to temptations to sin? To cease from causing others to sin? To rebuke those who had sinned against them? To forgive one another? Perhaps moving mulberry trees (or mountains as in the parallels) into the sea is an easier act of faith than moving us to “rebuke” and “forgive” people who have sinned against us; to confront sin rather than always being nice.


An analogy that I used in my notes on Luke 17:1-16: I think that our growth in faith is nearly always a movement from faith to faith (rather than from unbelief to faith). While the faith I have today is similar to the faith given at baptism, it is also different. Similarly, who I am today is both the same and different than who I was as an infant. My essence – my DNA is exactly the same, but my knowledge, physical size, abilities, etc. have changed considerably since birth.


I think it is more accurate to talk about a growth in understanding our faith. We certainly can and should grow in understanding what God has done and promises to do for us. We certainly can and should grow in our responses to the faith God has given us, e.g., increasing our actions of love towards neighbors (and enemies). Also, given the context of Luke 17, improve (1) in the ways we avoid scandalizing other people; and (2) our rebuke and forgiveness of those who have sinned against us. I'm not sure I would call these "a growth in faith." Rather growing in understanding or maturing in the faith God has given.


However, assuming faith can increase, what would an increased faith look like?


What might happen to us if and when God honors our request for more faith? I’m not sure that we really want more faith. More faith could lead us to stop doing some sinful things that we really like to do. For example, be less greedy and give away many of our possessions that we don’t really need. (Actually, as I think more about it, more faith could have us give away the stuff we really cherish. Then it’s sacrificial giving.) More faith could lead us to be more forgiving towards those who have sinned against us – and we really don’t want to forgive some of those mean, rotten people. In some cases, we would like to see them dead. More faith would mean loving them as Jesus has loved us.
 
More faith could lead us to be more like the slave in the story at the end of our text. That is, we become more dutiful slaves of God. Doing our duties willingly: Being more dutiful in attending worship services every week; being more dutiful in contributing generously of time and money to the church and to the needy; being more dutiful in participating in Sunday school and committees and other church activities; being more dutiful and doing such duties willingly, without grumbling or complaining. Could more faith mean sacrificing one’s own pleasures for the sake of the needy? Could more faith mean following more closely the footsteps of Jesus – which led him to the ridicule and suffering and death on the cross?
 
I’m not sure that a lot of people really want more faith. They may want more of the faith that will help them out – a faith that might heal themselves or a loved one, a faith that will help them pass a test, a faith that gives them assurance of eternal life; but do they really want a faith that will make them more Christ-like in sacrificial giving, in sacrificial loving, in sacrificial forgiving? I’m not sure if people want that.
 
It has been suggested that many people want only an inoculation of Christianity – just enough of it to protect them from catching the real thing. There is a danger in asking God to give you more faith. You might get it – then what?



"The church … had made us like ill-taught piano students; we play our songs, but we never really hear them, because our main concern is not to make music, but but to avoid some flub that will get us in dutch." [Robert Capon, _Between Noon and Three_, p. 148]

Brian Stoffregen

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Re: Can faith increase? What would it look like?
« Reply #1 on: February 28, 2021, 06:28:56 PM »
Another biblical reference about growing faith is 2 Corinthians 10:15. Paul writes about the Corinthians' faith growing. In some ways it's a bit like John the Baptist's comment about Jesus must increase and I must decrease. They need to learn to stop boasting about themselves and boast about Christ.


Or, as Paul might suggest in the next verse, growing the faith means spreading the gospel to more and more people.
"The church … had made us like ill-taught piano students; we play our songs, but we never really hear them, because our main concern is not to make music, but but to avoid some flub that will get us in dutch." [Robert Capon, _Between Noon and Three_, p. 148]

Dave Benke

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Re: Can faith increase? What would it look like?
« Reply #2 on: February 28, 2021, 06:59:19 PM »
You can pray against faith shrinkage in the words of the doctrinally-approved hymn:

O for a faith that will not shrink
Tho pressed by many a foe
That will not totter on the brink
Of poverty or woe (or "or any earthly woe", widening the chasm of inclusion).

Of course, that's an inverse argument, but taken from the Bible in its own way: "Luke 17 - 5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”

6 He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you."

That implies that the apostles' faith could grow, unless they had already done that thing with the mulberry tree.

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Re: Can faith increase? What would it look like?
« Reply #3 on: February 28, 2021, 07:00:55 PM »
2 Thessalonians 1:3--4
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Dave Benke

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Re: Can faith increase? What would it look like?
« Reply #4 on: February 28, 2021, 07:22:09 PM »
2 Thessalonians 1:3--4

Yes.  Cf. Romans 5, with the similar theme that growth comes through trial and tribulation.  We just had several testimonies to that effect during our live-stream worship this morning. 

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Re: Can faith increase? What would it look like?
« Reply #5 on: February 28, 2021, 07:35:23 PM »
If you all will pardon some Nagelisms: faith is being given to by God. Little faith, little Jesus. Today we had for Reminiscere the Canaanite Woman from Matthew 15. She came to receive help from Jesus for her daughter, of course, who was severely demon oppressed. But the Lord “stretched” (Pr. Ball’s good term for this) her faith, her giveabletoness, by the way he treated her. Many times little faith says to God: “Ah, perfect. Right there. That’s all I want. Thank you, no more.” And this particularly when God sends our way very difficult and trying situations, including the hard words He speaks. Can this woman receive even being a dog as a gift? Her faith stretches and grows and she RECEIVES IT. Yes, Lord, let me be your little dog, but give the dog it’s due. I’m only asking for a crumb for my daughter! Jesus’ response? “O woman! GREAT is your faith.” We could riff that with: You took everything I tossed at you. The ignoring you; the statement that I was only for the lost sheep of Israel; and even calling you a dog. You RECEIVED as a gift from me everything I gave.

Faith “grows” when the Lord stretches us to receive the gifts from Him, particularly the really hard ones. We may come to His Niagara with our little teacup; He wants us to be hauling buckets!

One last point that Dr. Kleinig never tires of driving home: in human life, growth tends to be mean growing independence. But in spiritual life, it’s the opposite: grow means growing DEPENDENCE upon Jesus and His words and promises. The whole of life is a process in which He “gives us” the gift of loss. He takes things from us. But He always whispers: But child, you have ME and I am all you need. And this goes on with the loss of friends and family, health and that great independence we prized so highly, and finally, finally, He takes even the breath away. And still His whisper is the same: “You have me. I’m all you need.” And we’ll find it to be so indeed. That is when faith is stretched to its uttermost, to receive even our own death as a gift from the hand of God.
« Last Edit: February 28, 2021, 07:44:43 PM by Weedon »

J. Thomas Shelley

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Re: Can faith increase? What would it look like?
« Reply #6 on: February 28, 2021, 07:39:15 PM »
"Increase our faith" is part of the life-long journey and work of Theosis.

Increase our faith, strengthen our hope, and deepen our love...what the Paschal pilgrimage of Lent is all about.
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Brian Stoffregen

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Re: Can faith increase? What would it look like?
« Reply #7 on: February 28, 2021, 07:50:35 PM »
Another analogy is the contrast between being weak in faith (Romans 14:1, 2) vs. strong in faith Romans 4:20.


What does this difference look like?


When someone refuses medical treatment because they (strongly) believe that God will heal them, is that a strong faith? That seems to be similar to Abraham's strong faith that God would provide a child when it seemed impossible.
"The church … had made us like ill-taught piano students; we play our songs, but we never really hear them, because our main concern is not to make music, but but to avoid some flub that will get us in dutch." [Robert Capon, _Between Noon and Three_, p. 148]

Brian Stoffregen

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Re: Can faith increase? What would it look like?
« Reply #8 on: February 28, 2021, 07:53:17 PM »
There is also Matthew's term for the disciples: "little faith:" 6:30; 8:26; 14:31; 16:8; 17:20. (Also used once elsewhere: Luke 12:28.)
"The church … had made us like ill-taught piano students; we play our songs, but we never really hear them, because our main concern is not to make music, but but to avoid some flub that will get us in dutch." [Robert Capon, _Between Noon and Three_, p. 148]

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Re: Can faith increase? What would it look like?
« Reply #9 on: February 28, 2021, 07:56:50 PM »
"Increase our faith" is part of the life-long journey and work of Theosis.

Increase our faith, strengthen our hope, and deepen our love...what the Paschal pilgrimage of Lent is all about.

Yes - in line with what Will Weedon has written there's the connection to Theosis through the Unio Mystica received by grace through Holy Baptism.  Thus the Nagel line "faith is being given to by God." 

In the fine book on the Holy Spirit available right now this evening through ALPB, the concept is expanded upon by talking through the converse - the greater my faith, the less I need God, because my faith is in ...........my faith, leading to Pentecostal perfectionism.  Werner Elert puts the torch to this, talking us through the "psychic I" which is reduced to ash and then covered by the cross of Christ.  So much for perfection.  And so much more for the cross.

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Brian Stoffregen

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Re: Can faith increase? What would it look like?
« Reply #10 on: February 28, 2021, 07:57:42 PM »
If you all will pardon some Nagelisms: faith is being given to by God. Little faith, little Jesus. Today we had for Reminiscere the Canaanite Woman from Matthew 15. She came to receive help from Jesus for her daughter, of course, who was severely demon oppressed. But the Lord “stretched” (Pr. Ball’s good term for this) her faith, her giveabletoness, by the way he treated her. Many times little faith says to God: “Ah, perfect. Right there. That’s all I want. Thank you, no more.” And this particularly when God sends our way very difficult and trying situations, including the hard words He speaks. Can this woman receive even being a dog as a gift? Her faith stretches and grows and she RECEIVES IT. Yes, Lord, let me be your little dog, but give the dog it’s due. I’m only asking for a crumb for my daughter! Jesus’ response? “O woman! GREAT is your faith.” We could riff that with: You took everything I tossed at you. The ignoring you; the statement that I was only for the lost sheep of Israel; and even calling you a dog. You RECEIVED as a gift from me everything I gave.

Faith “grows” when the Lord stretches us to receive the gifts from Him, particularly the really hard ones. We may come to His Niagara with our little teacup; He wants us to be hauling buckets!

One last point that Dr. Kleinig never tires of driving home: in human life, growth tends to be mean growing independence. But in spiritual life, it’s the opposite: grow means growing DEPENDENCE upon Jesus and His words and promises. The whole of life is a process in which He “gives us” the gift of loss. He takes things from us. But He always whispers: But child, you have ME and I am all you need. And this goes on with the loss of friends and family, health and that great independence we prized so highly, and finally, finally, He takes even the breath away. And still His whisper is the same: “You have me. I’m all you need.” And we’ll find it to be so indeed. That is when faith is stretched to its uttermost, to receive even our own death as a gift from the hand of God.


Perhaps we could say that Jesus drew the great faith out of her.


I agree with the growth in dependency on Christ. Another way of seeing this is growing in our awareness of our sinfulness. A movement from sins: I did something wrong; to sinfulness: my whole nature is sinful. With that also comes a growth in the graciousness of God that covers our deepest sins as well as our sinful nature.
"The church … had made us like ill-taught piano students; we play our songs, but we never really hear them, because our main concern is not to make music, but but to avoid some flub that will get us in dutch." [Robert Capon, _Between Noon and Three_, p. 148]

David Garner

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Re: Can faith increase? What would it look like?
« Reply #11 on: February 28, 2021, 08:00:23 PM »
Today is the Sunday of the Prodigal Son in the Orthodox Church.  Along the lines of what Pastor Weedon said above, increase in faith is not an increase in something we do, as if faith were a work.  I think that's looking at it from entirely the wrong perspective.

The Prodigal Son had his story straight.  He was going to say all the right things to win his father's heart back.  But as he approached the house, the father ran to greet him, killed the fatted calf, put a cloak and a ring on him and celebrated.  Was it because the Prodigal Son told such a great story to his father?  Or was it simply the father giving of his abundance to his son, because he loves him?

If we answer that, we can answer why it is possible to increase in faith without robbing God of His gift-giving ability.  God is always sufficient.  We are the ones who fall short.  Thank God our Father is gracious, so that we might learn to live of His abundance rather than squandering our inheritence.
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Re: Can faith increase? What would it look like?
« Reply #12 on: February 28, 2021, 08:16:38 PM »
Sanctification is the process by which our faith grows as we study the Word of God, receive the Sacrament and experience the mutual consolation  of the saints.  A saving faith may indeed be a small faith, but why anyone would be satisfied with such is a mystery to me.  Why anyone would not want to know the Word more thoroughly and live a life richer in service to our God is beyond by understanding.  But I must note that, for a long time hence, many in the Church seem to be almost embarrassed by a visible piety among the faithful, almost as if it is being too religious.  I am teaching a class on Puritanism this semester at a local college and, as I've prepared, I have been struck by how fully those folks preached and lived a vibrant faith life.  I might suggest Thomas Watson's A Body of Divinity  if you would like to experience some of that vibrancy.
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Re: Can faith increase? What would it look like?
« Reply #13 on: February 28, 2021, 08:32:07 PM »
Sanctification is the process by which our faith grows as we study the Word of God, receive the Sacrament and experience the mutual consolation  of the saints.  A saving faith may indeed be a small faith, but why anyone would be satisfied with such is a mystery to me. .

A colleague once remarked that "sanctification is the Achille's heel of Lutheranism".

Why would anyone be satisfied with minimalism?

Good question to raise on this forum!  Through the years I have drawn a few beatdowns from UberLutherans whose myopic focus is solely on Justification and who eschew any notion of cooperation with God's grace, much less anything that could remotely be construed as works righteousness.

Thank God for Justification!   But that is only the beginning of the real story...
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Re: Can faith increase? What would it look like?
« Reply #14 on: February 28, 2021, 08:51:10 PM »
I would think Sanctification is one of the true gems of Lutheranism, Thomas, not its Achilles Heel. At its heart, it results FROM the mystical union which results from justification. God forgives us and justifies us so that He can safely “move in” (i.e., without His holiness wiping us out!) and the Holy Spirit begins a process of renewal that reaches from that moment out to our resurrection. True, as we always say, it’s rather a weak beginning (not because of HIM, but because of us), but it is a genuine beginning nonetheless. And so we do indeed live under God’s pardon till the end (as Augustine put it so well). I think the Lutheran doctrine of sanctification and the new life is a source of abounding joy; it destroys the acedia that would make us just want to give up. As Luther said so unforgettably:

This life is not godliness, but growth in godliness;
  not health, but healing;
  not being, but becoming;
  not rest, but exercise.
  We are not now what we shall be, but we are on the way;
  the process is not yet finished, but it has begun;
  this is not the goal, but it is road;
  at present all does not gleam and glitter, but everything is being purified.
    - Martin Luther, A Defense and Explanation of All Articles (AE 32:24)
« Last Edit: February 28, 2021, 08:55:08 PM by Weedon »